See it There Laughing

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by Mike

Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken
by Eliezer Sobel
Publisher: The University of Tennessee Press

"I for one tried to take the injunction to love myself to heart, and I really devoted myself, but I found I needed to keep my relationship with myself open so that if things didn't work out I was free to see other people."

Minyan is a book about ten Jewish men told through the eyes of Norbert Wilner who helpfully tells us, "although parts of my story are identical to the author's, I am a fictitious character."

With one of the ten recently deceased, Wilner paints the lives of his friends in a series of short accounts woven together to let us know what his friends are like, what makes them tick and how strange and wonderful they all are. Within the novel lies a review of Wilner's own novel, which I suspect is Eliezer's review of Minyan, or at least feedback he had received:

"Funny, good writing and interesting characters, but lacks narrative thrust, doesn't hold up as a novel."

I would agree.

Although in stating Minyan's main flaw, its lack of narrative thrust, Eliezer seems to be saying, You think I care? It's a good book, read it and laugh a little.

The result then of these stories strung together with no narrative thrust?

Brilliant. This book is amazing. It has a heart to it and a delight that pours out. For me the true test of a great book isn't the narrative thrust, i.e. a story that keeps you turning the page, but an emotional thrust: I turn the pages because I care, because the book delights me and connects with me; it has a heart and soul. Minyan is all this and if you want a comparison, then think Kurt Vonnegut and think of one of those films made by a small film company that lacks drive and a neat ending, but charms the hell out of you without assuming you're a moron.

The book is insightful, layered and funny. And thankfully it doesn't try to preach a message to the reader. O and there is some narrative thrust. Wilner decides to start the Happy Hearse Funeral Parlor, discovers salvation through humour and falls in love. "Why, you thought I was all talk?"

So what is this Minyan, this group of ten Jews like? In a personal ad, Wilner sums up their collective characteristics into one fictitious character:

"37-yr-old Jewish gypsy bohemian fringe artist type, sad, fearful, incapable of intimacy or commitment, no real job or future, moderate substance abuser, seeks wealthy Jewish blonde virgin who will mostly leave me alone and bear me children."

And to single out one of them:

"Other people have mystical experiences in which they hear prophetic voices inside their heads; Wissbaum hears only "Beer here! Get your ice cold beer here."

Eliezer's writing style is excellent and he uses the phrase "See him there ... " in much the same way that Kurt Vonnegut uses the phrase "So it goes." In fact you do get the distinct impression as you read Minyan that Eliezer Sobel perhaps has a flash of genius about him.

See him there now laughing at this remark. Hopefully see him there writing as well - I want more.

Eliezer Sobel is the author of Wild Heart Dancing. He lives in Batesville, Viginia. Minyan was the winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.

Order Minyan here.

Read an extract here.

Visit Eliezer Sobel's site here.


kathleenmaher said...

Mike, such a wonderful review: it sounds like a book I shouldn't miss and won't be able to put down.
How you chose them mystifies me--but I'm so grateful you do.
"Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken" is published by The University of Tennessee Press? To US writers--and I would hope readers worldwide--that alone indicates a rare and invaluable find.

Mike French said...

He found me Kathleen through the GO!Smell the Flowers web site and sent me the book - to my shame it took me ages to get around to reading it!

GO! Smell the flowers said...

Great it came to this Mike and that people can connect online and convert it to a more touchy feely relationship from book to handshake!

Review reads really well, thanks for sharing.

Flower folk.

the99thmonkey said...

Hey Mike! I just discovered this by accident--didn't know you reviewed it--thanks so much, I always felt that the book got overlooked for the most part (along with most of the other 400,000 books published that year) but it remains very gratifying to know there are at least a few appreciative readers out there.

Many thanks and all the best,

Mike French said...

No probs and thanks for a great read Eliezer!